There were two great jazz performances in the Cedar Rapids Prairie gym Friday night.
One was by the Prairie pep band, which calls itself "The Art of Noiz," for good reason.
The other was by Marcus Paige.
Linn-Mar's jazzy point guard tossed in 33 points to help the third-ranked Lions survive Prairie, 68-60, in a spirited Mississippi Valley Conference game.
Prairie Coach James Moses and Linn-Mar boss Chris Robertson both had a difference of opinion with the officials and drew technical fouls, but the best fireworks were provided by Paige with his behind-the-back passes, crossover dribbles and smooth moves to the bucket.
He'll be making those moves next year for Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
"Marcus can be as good as he wants to be," said Moses, who was a smooth operator himself during his playing days at Iowa. "And I think Roy Williams is definitely - once he gets his hands on him - will push Marcus even more and we'll see even a better Marcus."
Paige nailed 16 of 17 free throws, drilled a trio of 3-pointers and left the gym with a 28-point scoring average.
"He's probably a once-in-a-lifetime guy," Robertson remarked. "He's so special. His skill level is so high. I'm glad we're not guarding him."
Paige made 12 straight foul shots in the final 4:02 in front of a spirited crowd to keep Prairie at bay, making him 16 of 17 overall. "I knew I missed one," he said, "but I guess that's not too bad."
Paige made 81.0 percent of his free throws last year and is hitting 84.2 percent this season. He'd like to make 90 percent and said he worked on his foul shots during the summer, along with all aspects of his game. He thinks he's improved in all areas.
"I definitely think there's been a big improvement," he said. "And as my ankle starts feeling better, I think I'll be more comfortable changing direction and stuff. It's still a little sore."
Paige sprained his ankle the day before the season opener, but has played through the pain and discomfort. "It felt pretty good today," he said. "I've got a long break to rest it up and get it better. By our next game I should be 100 percent."
Linn-mar won't play again until a trip to Waterloo West on Tuesday, Jan. 3 in 2012.
The Lions snapped a two-game losing streak Friday with their gritty win at Prairie. Linn-Mar lost to Iowa City West last Friday and fell at Cedar Falls Tuesday night in overtime.
"It's been awhile since we needed a win going into Christmas, and we felt like we really needed a win tonight," said Robertson, whose club went a spotless 26-0 last year. "That's a good win.
"This is a much improved Prairie team," he said. "This is a Prairie team that has a lot of guys that have played three and four years in the Valley and they're starting to have success.
"They're playing well, they're playing with confidence. We knew this was going to be a very tough road game for us."
Derik Gogg, a slender 6-foot-8 junior, gave Linn-Mar a boost with 11 points against the Hawks. Matt Meier, a 6-foot junior, also chipped in 11 markers as the Lions won their first game since Matt Lassen got hurt last Friday.
"We've been a little inconsistent around Marcus," Robertson said. "One night somebody will step up and another night it will be somebody different. Now we need two or three guys stepping up every night."
Lassen sat with his teammates during the first half Friday night, but went home at halftime as planned. Lassen is recovering from a head injury and has been told to avoid long stretches in bright, noisy gyms - like it was at Prairie.
The Lions and Hawks battled to a 26-26 draw in the first half, but Linn-Mar found a way to slow down Matt MacDougall after the 6-foot-4 senior had burned them for 16 points in the first two quarters. MacDougall scored only three points in the second half as Linn-Mar gradually imposed its will on the hosts.
Moses thought Linn-Mar controlled the game in the second half, thanks to its talented point guard. "It speaks volumes to Marcus Paige," he said. "His team was able to stay poised when it needed to be."
MacDougall finished with 19 points for Prairie (4-3, 1-2) and Jace Hanna tossed in 16, including 14 markers in the second half. The Hawks also got a boost from Jacob Aune, who made a surprise appearance and scored eight points.
Aune suffered a concussion last Friday against Washington and didn't think he'd be able to play this week, but he sparked the Hawks with a good performance off the bench.
Linn-Mar grabbed an 11-point lead at 48-37 on a putback by Gogg with slightly more than five minutes left in the game. Paige made it a 12-point game at 56-44 with 2:07 left with a pair of free throws, but Prairie would not call it a night.
The Hawks pulled within 63-57 with 36.5 seconds remaining on a pair of free throws by Hanna and got within 66-60 on a 3-pointer by Thomas Eilers with 23.4 seconds to go, but the rally ended there.
Paige made his last two foul shots with 13.9 seconds left to cement the victory.
LINN-MAR (68): Zach Martins 0 0-0 0, Marcus Paige 7 16-17 33, Jimmy Roth 3 0-3 6, Andy Henry 1 2-5 5, Derik Gogg 5 1-2 11, Nate Dick 0 0-0 0, Matt Meier 3 4-6 11, Jon Schlotterback 0 2-2 2. Totals 19 25-35 68.
PRAIRIE (60): Brooks Kehoe 0 0-0 0, Jace Hanna 6 2-2 16, Kentrel Smith 1 0-1 2, Matt MacDougall 5 7-8 19, Bryce Meeker 0 0-0 0, Thomas Eilers 2 1-2 7, Demetrius Harper 4 0-0 8, Jacob Aune 4 0-1 8, Tyler Mougin 0 0-0 0, Garrett Rasmussen 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 10-14 60.
Halftime - Linn-Mar 26, Prairie 26. 3-point goals - Linn-Mar 5 (Paige 3, Henry 1, Meier 1), Prairie 6 (Hanna 2, MacDougall 2, Eilers 2). Technical fouls - Linn-Mar Coach Chris Robertson, Prairie Coach James Moses. Fouled out - Kehoe.
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